Northern States Could Lose Wheat Acres to Corn

May 5, 2011 05:50 AM

The Dakotas and Upper Midwest are having one of their worst starts to corn planting on record. As of early this week, eight of the top-18 corn-growing states had planted only 2% or less of their corn. Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota were among them. As of May 1, growers in North Dakota had not even started planting corn, while Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin had completed only 1% of their corn planting, and South Dakota had 2% of its corn in the ground.

In USDA’s March 31 Prospective Plantings report, these five states combined accounted for 1.75 million, or 44%, of the additional 4 million corn acres that growers intended to plant this year, compared with 2010. “There is a lot of concern about planting progress or the lack thereof,” says Frayne Olson, economist with the University of North Dakota. “It will be extremely difficult for North Dakota to increase corn acres by 450,000.”
North Dakota growers have until May 25 to plant corn and be fully covered by crop insurance. “At some point, people will say it’s too late. The temptation will be to switch to soybeans. I would not be surprised to see soybean acreage increase substantially in North Dakota." He gives zero odds that all of North Dakota’s corn will be planted this year.
Still, it’s too early to worry and corn could pick up acres from other small grains, say some experts. South Dakota in particular will be watched closely because growers there had intended to plant an additional 850,000 acres of corn this year, about 21% of the national 4-million-acre increase. “It’s getting late for small grains and there’s a chance corn will pick up acres from wheat and oats,” says Bob Hall, extension agent for South Dakota Sate University. The last day to plant spring wheat in South Dakota and be fully insured is May 5.
According to USDA’s latest Crop Progress report, only 22% of South Dakota’s spring wheat and 30% of its oats had been planted as of May 1. “I wouldn’t rule out South Dakota corn acres yet,” says Matt Diersen, agricultural economist at South Dakota State Univeristy. Spring wheat is a different story. “It’s been very cold and there’s talk of a fair number of acres underwater.” Wheat acres that don’t get planted will shift to corn, soybeans, or sunflowers.
Minnesota’s unplanted spring wheat acres also could shift into corn if wheat growers aren’t able to plant soon. University of Minnesota agronomist Jeff Coulter notes that corn planting in Minnesota is about 10 days behind schedule, but that doesn’t worry him quite yet. “By next Wednesday if we haven’t made a lot of progress, then I’ll start to worry,” Coulter says. “If we can get corn in by May 15, we’ll realize most of our yield potential.”

Soggy Fields in Dairy Country

In Wisconsin, many fields remain too wet for fieldwork. “There’s been some corn planted in the southern part of the state, but from about Madison north, there’s been very little activity,” reports Mike Rankin, University of Wisconsin extension agent in Fond du Lac County. “Low fields could require a week to dry out.” Producers growing corn for grain won’t switch to other crops until about the last week of May. And unlike other states, 22% of Wisconsin’s corn is grown for silage. “That corn will get planted right up to June 1,” Rankin says.
Rain and below-normal temperatures have also plagued Michigan. The state had only one day suitable for fieldwork during the week ending May 1, according to Michigan’s NASS field office. Precipitation ranged from 1.18 inches to 1.73 inches in the Upper Peninsula and 1.96 to 2.58 inches in the Lower Peninsula.
According to the National Weather Service’s latest three-month forecast, which runs through July, below-normal temperatures are expected to continue throughout the five-state area. But only North Dakota is expected to receive above-average precipitation.
North Dakota’s Olson cautions that early planting doesn’t necessarily translate into large yields and late planting doesn’t always mean a poor crop. “We can have late plantings and still get good yields,” Olson says. “In 2009, planting was late but weather turned in our favor and we got well-above-trend yields. In 2010, we had an early planting, but yields were not as good as expected.” In 2010, warmer nighttime temperatures prevented the kernels from filling as deeply as they normally do, he adds.
Still any reduction in corn planting could greatly reduce carryout. Rich Feltes, vice president of research for R.J. O’Brien, Chicago, calculates that a one million cut in corn acres along with an average yield reduction of one bushel per acre would slash 2011-12 corn ending stocks to 514 million bushels and the corn stocks-to-use ratio to a record low of 3.8%. “Corn planting is the slowest since 1985,” says Feltes. “I don’t think we are going to get all of the corn planted.” A one-million-acre reduction in final corn acreage is likely, he adds.
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